|About as close a "selfie" as|
Deke N. Blue
has ever come close to.
Deke's Note: Our recently-departed ATU International President Larry Hanley once told me he wanted someone to write a book about "A Day in the Life" of a transit operator. While I thought my book "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane" fit that bill, it was a bit more broad than what President Hanley was thinking of. So this post, after a dreadfully-tense week of murder and untimely death, is dedicated to our departed brothers in the daily struggle known as "transit."
Monday: Back already? Is this a recurring nightmare, or was I in this torture chamber just moments ago? About 48 hours ago, actually. It feels as if I just set the brake in the yard and hopped out with a gargantuan sigh of relief... to be FREE again! But alas, here I go once more.
Up two-and-a-half hours prior to "go time." Shower, groom, dress, prepare lunch and drinks, check the weather to determine which outer wear is vital. Best to prepare for the worst; we say if you don't like the weather in Portland, just wait five minutes. Kiss and hug my beloved. Out the door and into the car. Get to the garage and find a parking place, transit to my road relief point 30 minutes early and earn that whopping two bucks and change relief pay; pennies per hour for an insult. Fill up the water bottle, chat with a brother or sister or several. Potty check (getting too old to say "Oh I'll just go later"). repeat Daily Mantra (yes, I still do after all these years), text my beloved sweet everythings. Climb aboard: water in bottle holder, backpack on the hook with flavored water in outside pocket. Log into display terminal, fare password input. Meanwhile...
"No reroutes, bus running fine, just the usual dumbasses and traffic freaks," the operator tells me, obviously relieved to be leaving. He's looking forward to retirement just weeks away. I'll be lucky if I make it that long. As I begin to roll, my body morphs into Bus Driver Guy mode. Minute seat and mirror adjustments take place the first five minutes. My gaze settles onto the road 12-20 seconds ahead and what lurks behind. I smile when a pax mirror glance reveals a face I haven't seen in a while; I nod and they see me, smile back with a friendly wave.
It's a relatively quiet day; time passes a bit more leisurely at the beginning of the week. Run on time most of the day, careful not to be too early, slip past time points "in the CADdy green." (I see no reason to be anal about being exactly at "0" as long as I'm not burning them too hot.) If people can't be at their stop 2-3 minutes early, it's their bad if I roll past them between stops when I'm 2-3 late. Our agency doesn't bother to lay down the law; it's up to us. If we were to stop for everyone who hails us like we're a cab, we'd never be on time, never get a break and everyone involved the worse off for it.
I roll how I do for a reason: efficiency. I drive the same late or on time... safely. Don't like it? There's always the next bus. You're also welcome to walk in the pouring rain. Makes no difference to me. I'm nice, friendly and pleasant... unless you cross my smooth and silky ride with rude stupidity. I'm not like my management: I have rules which must be followed on my bus, set forth by the laws of common decency. When you do throw a wrench into my lugnuts I tend to roar like my buddy the Rampant Lion. Watch out; I bite too.
Get back on time to the yard, set the brake, drop off the pouch. The same group of us arrive within minutes of each other. We exchange the usual pleasantries and bid farewell, thankful we're all there to do so. One down, too many to go.
|So much for the much-heralded "barriers"|
our transit agency, and others,
have begun adding to our buses.
I try to force something nutritional into ye olde gullet before home departure. Stress-induced acid boils in my stomach, dulling the need to break my fast. Same drill getting there and started. Routine is comforting. Break any one of them and you feel an ominous drone following your bus all day. Be safe, I keep repeating when my mind starts to wander.
"Please keep all sounds OFF on your cell phones and other electronic devices," I ask. "Thank you," I add. Doesn't hurt to be polite about it. Isn't that part of my mantra? Oh yeah. What I want to say: "HEY you inconsiderate phone stoners, SHUT OFF THE TUNELESS NOISE SO I CAN HEAR MYSELF THINK!!!" One dolt has headphones on but his repetitive nonsense (is that really music?) is so loud I think there's a problem with the engine. He doesn't hear the announcement, so I SHOUT a repeat. His seatmate gives him a tap on the shoulder and motions that I asked him to turn it down. Off come the headphones. "What?!? I was wearing my headphones!" No shit? I'm tempted to say "We're on a reroute so far removed you missed your stop 20 minutes ago." Instead, I gently request he turn down his volume. Thankfully, he does so.
It begins to rain. I smile. LOVE rain. Keeps people home rather than crowding bus stops like when the sun shines warm. POUR, PLEASE! It does. Sun. Rain. Gets a mite chilly after sundown. End the day a few runs late but nothing serious. End of day, sigh of relief.
Wednesday: "Wacky Wednesday," Operator Dan likes to tease me. But where is he? Damn, poor lad must be fighting his constant ailment again. He tells me to eat okra, I tell him my gas is already deadly enough. Miss my buddy when he's gone... our banter is part of my routine. We share a FaceBook chat with our mutual transit teen pro Brett, who warns me ahead of time what bus my ride will roll on. We also discuss the Blazers... Brett sent me a short video of Dame's last-second shot heard around the hoops world, right after it happened. I was working and obviously couldn't watch and he kept sending me updates. At my last break, the phone was stuck at 11 seconds and wouldn't update. He filled me in.
This day is certainly wacky. People are testing me more, pushing the limits. They know our "help" is spotty and not very responsive. "I'll ride at my own risk," they say, glibly sidling by without a care. A teen shows me a screen shot of his online "pass." I chuckle at his covering up the day code, and hope Fare Inspectors lurk ahead, but I know better. Passengers give me gruff when I ask them to find the trash can three feet from their seat, keep their feet on the floor. They yell "BACK DOOR" at me when the light above their empty heads is brightly-lit green. Green means go, I remind them. Perhaps I should jump out of my seat and hold their little hand as I place it inches from the strip between the handles to activate the sensor which opens the door. It's not neuroscience, for cryin' out fuggin' loud. Shall I walk them across the street too? Get a grip, people... instructions are written on the door right before you.
Motorists are even more rude lately. They speed up when I activate the YIELD light merging back into traffic, only to slam on their brakes and scream obscenities I neither hear nor care about. More lug nuts on this here rig, Bucko, move it or pay for it in ways you don't want to imagine. Thanks, by the way, for telling me I'm Numero Uno with your middle-school sign language, and you're welcome for not sending you to the morgue when you zip in front of me and slam on your brakes. (That'll show that idiot bus driver, they think.) I was ready for it, as usual. Predictable, faceless, useless. Half of you would flunk my driver's test. Hey, should I go into business as a driving instructor? I'd make more money but probably die sooner. I'll just stay pat, deal.
|We're ALL Americans in the US, Canada|
and Mexico. It's time we act like it.
Next comes the hardest part of any operator's job: dealing with Sammy Scumbag. He stands at the stop impatiently awaiting my late arrival. His stuff is on the far side of the shelter, and the stop pole is in its opposite direction. Waits until I get there, then tells me after three other fare-ready passengers have boarded, to wait while he gets his "stuff." Then he leisurely saunters on, grumbling about having to wait so long. (Thirty seconds have passed since my doors opened.) Digs in pants for wallet, which doesn't want to leave his moldy pants. (Now it's 60.) He smells like old cow dung soaked in skunk juice, and he's either drunk, stoned or both. I sigh impatiently (at the 90-second mark).
"Please have your fare ready when you board," I make the mistake of grumbling. "How long were you standing there before I arrived?"
Oops, shouldn't speak my thoughts. Management expects us to be fresh as a jolly old robot, sans emotion. How dare I! Scummy takes offense. Starts in on me how I'm rude and he should drag me off the bus and beat me bloody.
"I wouldn't attempt that, especially right now," I growl. "You'll likely get more than you bargained for, and I can't afford that."
Another no-no. Once again, Micro Manager pipes into the background noise: "Customer Servicey Voice! Tsk tsk!" Come drive a bus an hour in service, MicroMike, then you'll run screaming into the night, never to be heard from again. (Hey, now there's an idea!) I get louder than Sammy Sleazebreath and advise him to sit down and shut his yap, because I'm only afraid of his stench. A few of my heroic regulars, who know I work hard to be safe, smooth and relatively-calm, spring into action.
"Sit down and shut up, or I'll throw you off myself!" a Vietnam Vet tells him. Sammy slams shut. Not so tough after all. But now, the day's beginning to wear on me. I've been late more than usual, missed vital break minutes, and Dispatch tells me Sammy will have to be dealt with en route, because he really hasn't broken any rules. Bullshit. He's broken mine. Guess it's okay that my so-far calmness has been shattered and I'm now rattled tight as a snake. Diminished capacity as an operator can spell disaster. But hey, I'm just another body... we're being replaced with people who are trained to be amenable to ritual insults from every direction. Sigh. (Newbies: take note of this. Don't allow yourselves to be pre-programmed for bullshit management practices. Your very lives depend on your intelligence-while-operating.)
Somehow, I make it to the yard. My head falls into the steering wheel after I set the brake. I sit there a moment, breathing deeply and trying to realize half the week is complete. Vent to the wife as I drive home, she welcomes me with her patented warm hug. I don't allow myself a cocktail, even though it's a been a typically-rotten day. Lately, I hate my job. Not good. PTSD (Management: "What's that? Big deal!") is taking its toll. I refuse to become an alcoholic, always hated crutches anyway. I'll have a few this weekend, but never to excess. It is funny though... I never drank much until I became a bus operator.
Thursday: Watch out. Customer Service be damned. My boiling point is just a few degrees above freezing. My #BANDTOGETHER cheek bandage reads "41," the number of times my brothers and sisters and I have been threatened, menaced or assaulted this year. (I didn't realize that number was off by one or two already.) The past few days I had worn others for our lost souls of the road, never to be forgotten. I've been sad all week, on edge, too eager for battle. I'm fed up with the few bastards who make it hell on wheels for us, and our decent riders.
Be ready, be nice, or you can fucking walk. I wonder if this should become my new mantra. I'm in no mood for meatheads. But hey... traffic is light, the weather is lovely and still not a heavy load. My leader must be late again. I'll alert Dispatch to throw him into DropOff Only mode if I catch him. Poor dude's paddle smacks him every day. He gets tons of ADA pax, freight trains, drug dealer pimps and junky whores. I pick up his leftovers, mostly decent folks just returning home from work. They're good to me, say hello and thanks. I appreciate them more than they know; I hope they feel the same about me, but they rarely show it. Perhaps I expect too much... just drive, asshole.
All is fine, except for the traffic light on the most heavily-trafficked street of my route, with no rhyme to its lack of reason. Allows left turners a green arrow in the opposite lane (all three of them) to access a parking lot and adjacent Jack in the Box for about an hour. Then when it's our turn, the arrow is green for about six seconds. Three cars scoot through legally, after they are honked back to reality from Cellaroma, followed by a few red light runners too annoyed to wait again. Three light cycles later, I'm in the first position. Cross traffic light turns red, my arrow turns green and immediately slips into blinking yellow as I'm halfway into the intersection. Oncoming traffic rushes up to me, honking. Hey, I'm turning here! No way out of it, gotta go. Not my fault the City of Portland is asleep at the wheel where traffic light sequences are concerned. Horns aplenty, screams of "Stupid bus driver!" from hordes of phone zoners who had to be beeped at when the light turned green. At least my phone is OFF AND STOWED, ROOKIES! Ugh. I'd flunk 80% of any of these I taught, by the looks of their absent skills.
Traffic, nutjobs in and outside the bus, numerous delays, agonizingly-short breaks. Someone pees and/or poops her pants onboard, so I have to get a bus trade because of the biohazard. People ask why I don't kick her off; I can't respond. It's against my nature to publicly shame the offensive offender. It's a good bet she doesn't know she stinks so bad. They're on my bus for 20 minutes, I'm here 50+ hours a week. They see a shot, I smell the barrel. (Ready to drink a barrel, but Daddy taught moderation.) Sometimes, a shot more than I should have is required. Come drive a mile in my shoes and then you'll understand. For the next 48 hours, I don't want to see a bus. No crowd events, festivals, certainly no bus rides. I'll be back soon enough. Until that lucky lottery ticket wins. Ha! Like you, I relish the thought.
|Deke was in Chicago earlier in May.|
Back at the garage, I blast the parking brake and kick the farebox. I growl when someone asks how my day went. "Oh," she says, "I'm sorry." She retreats, I escape. Poor lady, she deserves my patented painted-on smile, at least. She was once beaten senseless by a scumbag fare evader and doesn't deserve my cold shoulder. But she gets it. I'm turning into a Grumpy Bus Driver. And they want ME to apply as a trainer? No way. Can't... won't... teach someone to be this guy. Grrr...
Friday: Could it be, at last? It rolls by, at the speed of dark. Yet today is another route, different faces, similar yet distant places. I've been absent the past few weeks, so this time I'm a bit incognito. Extra Board has filled it. In fact, I've missed quite a few of these this signup. Maybe they think I'm EB too. It's just as well.
It's raining. Finally. The Northwest is in spring mode again. We had an early summer flash, and now the sky is cooling us off and adding to the brightness of our emerald forest. I love this, after an earlier life of heat flashes half the year. I hear my dear departed Lady Guttersnipe admonish me for feeling grateful I only board one person using a mobility device all day. Immediately, I feel guilt. Plus, I miss her every time I pass her former home as I drive this route. In fact, the only reason I chose this line was because I miss her... ever so horribly. Lady G taught me what it's like to be disabled on transit, and how to be more patient and helpful to those who need me to understand. Still, I'm able to stay on time all day because the passenger load is relatively light.
Days like this remind me of the fun I still find on the job. People are thankful when I wait as they rush through a downpour to catch my ride. They smile more, chat a bit and cheer me. Folks chat about the weather, the Blazers' latest success, how things were once upon a time, and compliment me more often than usual.
"That was the smoothest ride I've ever had on this line," one man told me on his way off the bus. That meant more to me than 100 customer service commendations ever could. I work very hard to roll smoothly into stops. Even when I predict some bonehead's ill-advised move in traffic, my braking seems just part of the roll, not forced or sloppy. If I do make a mistake, I apologize into the microphone. "Sorry folks, that one was a bit rough. Y'all okay back there?" They appreciate this, because unfortunately, some of my predecessors aren't apologetic whatsoever. It's yet another of Daddy Blue's lessons: always strive to make sure your passengers feel comfortable and safe with you behind the wheel. Check, Dad. And thanks.
As I roll into my assigned track in the yard at the required 5mph, I throw Big Bumpkis into Neutral and let her roll into the first position before I (once again) smoothly bring her to the final stop. Set the brake, flip the air off, make sure all electrical accessories are shut off too, then throw the main switch into OFF position, for the last time. Until... the next time.
Can you see now why Deke is in therapy? Closing in on seven years at this gig, trying to find my way out of the gloom. Don't worry, I always land on my feet. They're pretty big.
Thanks for sticking with me. It may have taken you several minutes to read this, but it took me a full week to write. I appreciate you hanging in there. It is for YOU that I still do this. I say it again: thanks, and I truly mean it.